Principal Doctrine 23

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If you argue against all your sensations, you will then have no criterion to declare any of them false.


Dovetailing the previous Principal Doctrine 22, Epicurus warns his students against the tendency to "do battle with one's senses", to contest what perceptions one receives sensorially. This warning may quite plausibly be in response to the teachings of several other Greek/Hellenistic schools of philosophy, which routinely advised their students expressly not to trust their senses.

Epicurus' argument is rounded, but not circular:

A. If you do not trust what your perceive through your senses (which provide you with the only criterion, the only way of knowing there is)

B. you will not be left with any "other" criterion by which to judge anything;

C. you will thereby not have any criterion by which to tell or prove that those earlier impressions you unwisely discarded in A (i.e. the initial stage of doubt) were untrue; you will simply not have anything else to deduce to or from.

Thus the one who doubts sensorial impression is led ad absurdum to an epistemological no-man's-land, unable at the inevitable third step to say whether the first one was in the right direction or not.

  • The colloquial phrase pros ti poioumenos means literally "taking action towards something"; the idiomatic meaning is rather grasping for something, attempting to seize on something. In the context of this Doctrine, the implication is that this effort is in vain, or in poor judgment. (The same phrase also appears in Principal Doctrine 25.)
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